DISTANCE LENDS ENCHANTMENT, MAYBE
Review by Barbara Bucknall
As I consider the recent Voix de Ville Extravagonzo and the present show at NAC by Amber Lee Williams, I am left with an impression of distancing. The foreword by Steve Remus to the little brochure accompanying Extravagonzo talks of resisting attempts to possess and oppress us. In other words, the young people at NAC are Romantic rebels, committed to a work of liberation from prevailing accepted attitudes.
Part of this falls under the umbrella of atheism, which is what I cannot go along with. When I was a student at Oxford in the1950s, obstructive, domineering authoritarianism was applied by atheistic professors who disparaged and even persecuted the Christian creative thinkers J.R.R.Tolkien and C.S.Lewis. Consequently I found the comedians in this show profoundly alienating.
I was not alienated, however, by most of this show, which I found fascinating and charming and above all surprising. I felt that I had somehow entered a stranger’s dream with all its bizarre twists and turns and sudden leaps of faith, without quite knowing how I got there or what prompted it.
The distancing in Amber Lee Williams’s show is rather different. There is only our own movement, from one part of her show to another, no sound and very little color. We remain on the periphery of what Amber chooses to convey.
To begin with, she superimposes white scribbles on a series of commemorative photographs which explore identity by displacing it. Then we pass to a cluster of used tea bags. Then we are confronted with old children’s books which seem to be placed on a rustic base out in the country with twigs overhead. The pages have been glued together and then perforated to reveal photographs of the artist’s daughter and mother. This is followed by a solidified bag of baby socks and a series of photographs from a family album. Old and young, male and female, are pieced together and surrounded by a diaphanous watercolor haze.
Altogether we find ourselves listening to a soliloquy rather than being engaged in a dialogue or swept along on a flood of eloquence. We may in fact be listening to a language spoken before we were born and to which we will return after death. Amber’s show represents a challenge: a challenge to move out of our accustomed reality and cross a strange frontier. This is very much in keeping with NAC principles.
The same challenge occurs, in a much more recognizable and welcoming way, in the puppet show in the NAC window, now in its third incarnation Here we are presented with four tiers of puppets admiring a three ring circus, with a lion and his tamer on the middle level, acrobats above and merry and sad clowns below. To me it came as a welcome return to my own highly peculiar brand of normality.